The Dean of the Eberly College of Science, Dan Larson, was supposed to be talking to the class today about the Universe. We decided over the weekend that it would be more appropriate given current events if he talked to the students about what has just transpired at Penn State.
And he sure did. It was remarkable that someone so senior would stand in front of students – nonscientists all, so formally not his responsibility – and be so, well, darned honest. Several times I cringed, worrying that if there was a journalist in the room, SC200 would make the news for all the wrong reasons (“Dean says…”). The students did not muck around. “Should JoPa have been sacked?”. “For closure, we need to hear you say what you think about that”, “Should Spanier have been sacked?”, “Does the rot extend to the Board of Trustees?”, “What did you think of the riot?”, “Should Spanier be allowed to return to campus as regular Professor?” etc etc. And the Dean challenged the students. Penn State is us, he said. We can all do something about the future of Penn State.
It’s all been as shocking for Faculty as students. We too feel it viscerally. So many people have been let down by what we have to hope was so few. One of the most eloquent comments by a student concerned the real victims: we can do something about Penn State’s reputation by what we all do next; the victims can never get normality back.
And a beautiful thing happened, unscripted. A student wanted the Dean’s reaction to the claim that some seniors had second job interviews cancelled because they were Penn State. I pushed them hard on that (I can’t believe it is true). No one had first hand experience of it. The Dean said very aggressively that if it was true, it was outrageous and you didn’t want to work for that organization anyway. And then a student left the room, to return ten minutes later to mouth to me “I got the job”. I told the class her second interview had obviously gone VERY well, and she got a round of applause. It’s a serious job, with benefits and a future (and she gets to live in Colorado). She’s on her way. And given the Dean’s performance, I think we are too.